Interview: Actor RJ Mitte talks 'Breaking Bad' and doing good before stop in Tampa

Walter White's son — and the actor who played him — is growing into a far better man than his Breaking Bad dad.

That's the way RJ Mitte sees his fictional character Walt Jr., five months after the acclaimed TV saga of meth and mayhem ended.

"Right now he's still shaken up by what happened, very focused on being with his mom and little sister," Mitte, 21, said by telephone. "He's the only man in the house now."

In real life, Mitte is viewed as an inspiration, after being diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy at age 3, now using his celebrity to advocate rights for society's disabled, aged and bullied.

Mitte, 21, is visiting the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa this weekend, picking up a rising star award and supporting his feature film debut in House of Last Things, a haunted house yarn David Lynch might appreciate.

Earlier this week, Mitte called from South Carolina, midway through a 10-day speaking tour, promoting diversity in the arts and media. Giving back is in his blood, raised in a Louisiana family with a foundation donating to various charities.

"I grew up well," Mitte said. "I had family and friends who were there to get me out of my disabilities, to take control of my life. I was lucky enough to have that, so I'm always trying to give back, since I was a kid.

"It's a hard issue for some people when it comes to disabilities. People don't like to admit they have them, and that they need help. When you realize you have these faults, you turn them to your advantage. That's what I've always tried to do, and I'm in a unique place to do it."

Perhaps the organization closest to Mitte's heart is Shriners International, for an intensely personal reason. His cerebral palsy wasn't diagnosed until a Shriner who sold several Cadillacs to his grandmother over the years suggested taking the toddler to the group's Shreveport children's hospital. Doctors there immediately pegged his condition and began therapy.

Mitte was recently named as ambassador for the Shriners' Love to the Rescue campaign. His plans to visit the organization's Tampa headquarters and children's hospital were scrapped Friday due to a hectic schedule.

In reality, Mitte's condition isn't as severe as his Breaking Bad character. Currently on ABC Family's Switched at Birth, Mitte plays a paralyzed snowboarder. House of Last Things offers his first major role without such physical limitations, closer to his true self.

"I was very happy not to be on crutches, or pushing myself around in a wheelchair, just to be able to walk," Mitte said.

Before hanging up, as a Breaking Bad fan I had to ask Mitte about Walt Jr.'s perceived fondness for breakfast, which viewers turned into a series of amusing Internet memes.

"I don't get it," Mitte said. "We only had breakfast (on the show), like, five times. I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure only five times in the whole series.

"But I guess it sticks out in people's minds because that was the only time when no one was lying, no one was trying to kill each other. Well, they were but no one really talked about it."

And Mitte's idea of a good breakfast?

"I'm a bacon man," he declared. "When I was on Breaking Bad, the last three or four years of the show I'd just have bacon sandwiches. Toast and bacon. So good, man."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

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Gasparilla International Film Festival

Gasparilla International Film Festival has screenings today through Sunday at Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City. RJ Mitte will accept his rising star award Saturday at the 8:30 p.m. screening of House of Last Things. A complete schedule of films, panels and parties is available at gasparillafilmfestival.com

Interview: Actor RJ Mitte talks 'Breaking Bad' and doing good before stop in Tampa 03/21/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 7:03pm]

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